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Memory in autism spectrum disorder: a meta-analysis of experimental studies

Desaunay, P., Briant, A. R., Bowler, D. M. ORCID: 0000-0002-9884-0627 , Ring, M., Gerardin, P., Baylete, J-M., Guénolé, F., Eustache, F. & Parienti, J-J. (2020). Memory in autism spectrum disorder: a meta-analysis of experimental studies. Psychological Bulletin, 146(5), pp. 377-410. doi: 10.1037/bul0000225


To address inconsistencies in the literature on memory in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we report the first ever meta-analysis of short-term (STM) and episodic long-term (LTM) memory in ASD, evaluating the effects of type of material, type of retrieval and the role of inter-item relations. Analysis of 64 studies comparing individuals with ASD and typical development (TD) showed greater difficulties in ASD compared to TD individuals in STM (Hedges’ g=-0.53 [95%CI -0.90; -0.16], p=.005, I²=96%) compared to LTM (g=-0.30 [95%CI -0.42; -0.17], p<.00001, I²=24%), a small difficulty in verbal LTM (g=-0.21, p=.01), contrasting with a medium difficulty for visual LTM (g= -0.41, p=.0002) in ASD compared to TD individuals. We also found a general diminution in free recall compared to cued recall and recognition (LTM, free recall: g=-0.38, p<.00001, cued recall: g=-0.08, p=.58, recognition: g=-0.15, p=.16; STM, free recall: g=-0.59, p=.004, recognition: g=-0.33, p=.07). We discuss these results in terms of their relation to semantic memory. The limited diminution in verbal LTM and preserved overall recognition and cued recall (supported retrieval) may result from a greater overlap of these tasks with semantic long-term representations which are overall preserved in ASD. By contrast, difficulties in STM or free recall may result from less overlap with the semantic system or may involve additional cognitive operations and executive demands. These findings highlight the need to support STM functioning in ASD and acknowledge the potential benefit of using verbal materials at encoding and broader forms of memory support at retrieval to enhance performance.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: ©American Psychological Association, 2019. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. Please do not copy or cite without author's permission. The final article is available, upon publication, at:
Publisher Keywords: Autism spectrum disorders, short-term memory, long-term memory, episodic memory, meta-analysis
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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